Honoring Our History: Assuring Our Survival

Posted December 2nd, 2008 at 4:58 pm.

Diversity Conversation Oct. 24, 2008

A constant theme of the past two diversity conversations was the idea of multicultural history on Bryn Mawr campus, especially of the affinity groups: what current students can take from the past in terms of membership, conflicts, and collaboration.

This week’s conversation gave particularly deep insight into this history as it was attended by several alumnae, who all shared the experience of being minority students on campus at various points of time, ranging from the early 1970s to only a few years ago.

There isn’t much information on the exact origins of the affinity groups at Bryn Mawr- it’s possible that Sisterhood developed in the 1970s as a primarily black affinity group, but inclusive to students of Latina and Caribbean origins. Between the 80s and the 90s BACaSO and Mujeres came to be.

We learned from alums that the purpose that affinity groups originally served was to provide a resource and support space that effectively functioned like a “home away from home” for many students in the midst of Bryn Mawr’s predominantly caucasian environment. Affinity groups provided students with a space to vent concerns specific to diversity, a knowledge base of which people and channels were going to be most sensitive and receptive to their needs, and, in general, a place to feel comfortable. Finally, there it was a space to develop a cultural history at Bryn Mawr- with the goal that the issues women experienced in the past or present would no longer exist in the future.

Diversity issues at Bryn Mawr will always be, in some way, institutional issues, but only in recent times have the approaches to these issues become institutional as well. In the past, student-powered affinity groups were the engines that lobbied the administration for measures on their behalf, like an increased flow of minority students to the college. The OIA now serves as a channel for many of these concerns, and affinity groups seem to have evolved from engines for change to interest groups with lesser roles in social justice education and action on campus.

And perhaps that’s okay. Though there is certainly room for improvement and progress, current students feel that diversity at Bryn Mawr is at a level where interaction between people of different backgrounds is an everyday occurrence, even if they do not always lead to greater awareness and understanding.

One alumna noted with great insight that there exists in human nature a natural tendency to seek the company of people who look, talk, and act like you; to whom you don’t have to explain yourself; who share experiences similar to yours. It’s the challenge of wanting to feel comfortable. Intercultural interaction and understanding, facilitated by Bryn Mawr’s diverse context and its institutional offices like the OIA, will still always take a conscious effort.

More often than not, effort like this is rewarding- not only in learning about other cultures, but in helping to celebrate oneself. An alumna reflected that coming to Bryn Mawr and being in the presence of so many confident women from so many unique backgrounds suddenly made her feel proud to be what she was.

Filed under: civic engagement,diversity,history by Vanessa Christman

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